In 1911, the Wyoming Penitentiary’s warden, Felix Alston Sr, put together the most bizarre of All-Star teams. Consisting of only death row convicts because they would appreciate the freedom on the field more than the rest of the prison population, they became a barnstorming sensation, drawing top competitors to their western outpost. Ruthlessly, Alston instilled a policy to further incentive the ballplayers: succeed on the field, you receive a stay of execution. Fail to perform? Not only were you off the team, but you were off to the gallows.
Before one game, Alston told reporters:
“Leroy Cooke is at first. He bludgeoned to death a barber and stole his monety. On second base is George Saban. He shot his wife and two children. Jack Carter, third base. Shot and killed an old hermit, cut him up and burned his remains in the fireplace. Benjamin Owen, beat his neighbor to death with a hatchet. Horace Donavan, catcher. Shot and killed his brother-in-law. Fielders Simon Kensler, Darius Rowan and Lazlo Korda—between them they raped and killed eight people. William Boyer, pitcher. Stabbed his father to death with a letter opener.”
As for the star shorstop, Joseph Seng, he “unloaded a revolver into a man’s head.”
Even more shocking is that, instead of the politicians decrying the practice, it is believed that many funded their campaigns by betting on the All-Stars, with an estimated total of of “more than $132,000 dollars in bets” exchanging hands over the team. It was a lucrative practice for the town and everyone surrounding it.
The increased popularity was a double-edged sword, however, as it soon brought the attention of reporters who wanted to expose the scam that the Warden Alston and Judge Farchi had put in place. With the pressure on, Judge Farchi schedule an immediate appeal for Joseph Seng, the first step in hurrying his execution. Despite an outcry of support from Seng’s mother and the town that had fallen in love with his play, he was put to death and soon after the team was dissolved.
Perhaps most telling of all is third baseman Jack Carter’s quote:
“If I had to do over again, I’d still been a crook, but I would have fought harder to get on the All Star team sooner.”
(images and information via Death Row All-Stars by Chris Enss)
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